Martyn Bradbury: David can still stone the National Goliath

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David Cunliffe. Photo / APN
David Cunliffe. Photo / APN

The problem with political journalism in New Zealand is that we have MMP elections covered by a First-Past-the-Post Press Gallery.

After a nightmare couple of weeks, one could be forgiven for writing off David Cunliffe's chances of being the next Prime Minister, but beyond the recent smears and flawed landline opinion polls, Cunliffe has every chance of replacing John Key in September.

What the Donghua Liu allegations tell Labour is that the threshold for journalism has shifted to the point where breathless reporting of baseless and sourceless insinuations have become the new benchmark for uncritical propaganda.

When the shrill beige brigade seem to hold one set of standards for Key and another for

Cunliffe, relying on the mainstream news to give Labour fair coverage is a false hope.

The solution is Cunliffe speaking over the media directly to the electorate with a barnstorming tour of New Zealand to reconnect with the voters on jobs, education and affordable housing concerns.

Cunliffe needs to project his vision of the first 100 days of his government. What will he do to make the lives of those who balance the budget weekly and the aspirations of a squeezed middle class measurably better? That's his challenge.

The true genius of Matt McCarten's appointment as chief-of-staff is that he understands the need to use MMP tactically with a specific focus on a handful of lynchpin electorates.

Epsom, Te Tai Tokerau, Waiariki, Tamaki Makaurau, Ohariu and East Coast Bays are unique battlefields requiring a wider perspective than the personal egos of individual candidates.

Key's desperation to consider Colin Craig as a coalition partner will drive much of National's soft urban vote to the Greens, giving them a realistic shot at 15 per cent, meaning Labour only needs 32 per cent to have a chance of leading the next Government.

The Left can disapprove of coat-tailing all it likes, but refusing to use the rules and allow Key another three years on "principle" would be an obscenity to the hopes and dreams of the 800,000 New Zealanders living in poverty.

Cunliffe's performance in the debates and on the campaign trail will be one of the most convincing components of a Labour-led win.

David Shearer had to go because of his ability to look confused five seconds into any answer so Cunliffe's talent to front-foot Key will be crucial. Key beat Helen Clark and Phil Goff in the debates, if Cunliffe beats Key, he finally changes the narrative. It may not be apparent during the current media hype, but National has very few reasons to sleep easy.

• Martyn Bradbury is a left-wing blogger.

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